Monday, December 15, 2008

Slopeside 101

A fresh start Sunday morning, with the blessing of a car loaned to me, I drove carefully to the mountain, petrified and paranoid that I would do something to harm myself or my friend’s car.
But I was there and ready with plenty of time at the ski school meeting place. It felt like a long wait, then suddenly I was surrounded by knee-high little ones and their parents introducing themselves, filling me in on their child’s habits and needs.

Four teenage helpers also appeared in our crowd. Everyone was bundled tight and hidden by goggles and scarves. I desperately tried to associate names with helmets and skis. A bitter wind and blinding snow gusts stole our voices.

Within minutes, my entourage was on the Magic Carpet, literally a very slow conveyor belt running 100 yards up a very mild slope. Immediately at the top, I could see we had five year olds who could turn easily and did not want to stop, and two kids who could not move at all.

Admittedly at a loss how to balance the diversity, I assigned pairs to the helpers and let them go ahead, while I tried to unfreeze little Max from his petrified grip on my leg. Unable to stand on his own, much less slide, we proceeded to shuffle sideways across the slope, one long, slow turn after another.

The rest of my kids and helpers were up and down, sliding by like so many leaves on a bubbly stream. By the time we finally made bottom, one experienced helper reported graduating the most advanced to other classes and her charges were ready for a bit more of a challenge. A voice from training cautioned me that protocol required we stay together, but I thought the next lift was just a little bigger and gave them permission to go.

At potty-break time, I sent my remaining helper and three youngest inside for hot chocolate and went to find the others. At the base of the lift, my supervisor asked politely for status, but got quickly stern hearing that helpers were up the mountain alone with kids. I raced up and down, but could not find them.

In the lodge, I realized all names were forgotten or confused, and I had no clue what anyone looked like out of goggles and jackets.

I was fired for sure!

The staff wants no reports of missing children over the radios, so the code phrase is “foraging bears”. Running circles from lift to lodge to lift, my panic broke out in a furious sweat as I reported my losses. They remained amazingly calm when asking how many.

“All of them!” I shrugged plaintively, “And my helpers too.”

I truly felt incompetent and completely disgraced, but as sure as snow comes each winter, they made it to the bottom, and we all circled round a table for hot chocolate and stories. As if no tension had choked me mute moments before, I asked about their kindergartens and teachers’ names, making better plans in my head for next week’s class.

I barely got to ski with most of these kids, for little Max needed my entire focus for our last run again. They all skied in line down between us and waved from the Magic Carpet on their ways back up. Pulling him to his feet every three feet, I counted the dollars, subtracted the gas, and wondered how I could possibly muster the energy to return.

At last, I was able to get Max to only hold one finger and make turns around (and over) my skis. When he saw his dad beckoning near the bottom, he let go and made three entire turns completely on his own.

As their parents blessed me for my patience and cleverness (having no idea that I had lost their children), three of the little ones gave me big hugs, and one a high five, counting on returning next week to ski with me again, winning me over with sweet satisfaction and distraction from all my troubles at home.

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Hayden Tompkins said...

What a cute (if a little harrowing) story! And you did manage to get teenagers, even if they were only four.

Anonymous said...

I've always found it very rewarding to work with youth. The enthusiasm wins you over every time.


Laurie said...

Don't feel bad Kip. One year on my first day at a new school, one of my kindergartners got on the wrong bus to go home. He was supposed to get on the bus for the day care and ended up on a bus to his neighborhood. I quickly drove to his house and found him there with his dad, who just happened to be at home that day. I looked like a total idiot!

And then there was another first day of school where I caught the school on fire but that's a story for another day (a true story really). :o)

Anonymous said...

All's well that ends well.

Erin said...

Oh my God...I am laughing so hard! How funny. But I must admit that I am glad I just read this now after knowing you...rather than a couple months ago -- I may never have sent Sabrina back up the slopes!
Great story. I am officially addicted to your blog! Erin